Labour in Vietnam

CFP: a conference in Canberra 6-7 November 2008

The Australian National University
Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Canberra
6-7 November 2008

Call for Papers

Vietnam's transformation into an industrial economy is evidenced by the rapid growth in foreign industrial investments and the increased share of GDP occupied by manufacturing. However, as industrial parks multiply and made-in-Vietnam products proliferate worldwide, so too do labour disputes.

For three years in a row, Vietnam has been hit by strike waves, especially immediately before and after Tet. This is an unusual labor phenomenon at a time when the mobility of global capital has instilled quiescence in many governments and labour. Yet, the strikes have not deterred foreign investors. Below the surface, rarely manifested in overt labour disputes, are diverse concerns about inadequate social infrastructure for migrant workers, the overall quality of the workforce, the representation of worker's interests, the unregulated informal sector and the hard-to-quantify social and cultural costs of Vietnam's rapid transformation from an agricultural to industrial economy.

The 2008 Vietnam Update takes up the timely issue of labour in Vietnam.It will explore the theme of labour broadly, including Vietnam's position in regional labour markets; the socialist legacy in the globalised workplace; everyday working conditions and experiences; the regulatory framework; the changing industrial relations system; the politics of labour; the protection of labour rights; and the internationalisation of labour standards. It aims to understand a breadth of perspectives, including the views of domestic and foreign company managers, labour activists, state regulators and workers.Vietnam Update organisers are calling for research-based papers that address the following sets of questions relating to this theme:

  1. As Vietnam integrates into global labour markets, it faces new opportunities and constraints. At the macro level over the last two decades, in what ways have sectoral changes and changes in industrial structure and ownership (equitisation, privatisation, state-enterprise restructuring, and the emergence of new private and foreign sectors) affected the country's labour market, employment, human resources, the social welfare system, standards of living, social equality, etc.? How do working conditions, labour capacities and the regulatory framework in Vietnam compare with those of other countries in the region? What are the prospects for Vietnam's workers in this globalised economy? How are these macro economic changes played out in the changing nature of work, and policies, politics, and practical solutions relating to labour markets?
  2. What is the nature of work in Vietnam today? What can be learnt about the spectrum of present day work experiences and how might this differ from the past? What does work mean to people, how is it conceptualised?What kinds of new challenges and problems do workers experience? What do job-seekers expect in terms of working conditions and terms? What adjustments have people made to gain employment in the changing economic conditions, and how have their choices shaped the economic landscape?
    The experiences of migrant labourers are of particular interest as we seek to understand the motives and conditions of the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese who migrate domestically and overseas to find work. Why have they migrated to seek work elsewhere? How have they fared? What is known about the practices of labour recruitment? Answers to these questions are sought in papers that may investigate work in a wide range of sectors, jobs and localities, including manufacturing, agriculture, the service sector and state employment
  3. Labour protests have been on the rise year on year. Where have they occurred, and what forms have they taken? What are the instigating conditions and what are the demands? How are the protests organised? How does a work force that is so young develop a capacity for strike action? Do these labour disruptions portend a new stage in Vietnam's labour movement? What role has the media, which is generally pro-labour, played to nurture workers' consciousness? How do employers, the Vietnamese state and the official trade union react to these protests?
  4. As private and foreign capital expands in Vietnam, commodification and feminisation of labour has become a reality. Of particular interest are Taiwanese and Korean businesses, the two biggest investors in Vietnam, whose factories are most prone to strike actions. What are the labour regimes and labour standards like in these East Asian enterprises? How do the workers, who are mostly female migrants from the poorer parts of the country, adjust mentally, physically and socially to such regimes? Papers are sought that capture the voices and analyse the conditions of the workers in the East Asian business sector in Vietnam. Papers that examine management cultures and working conditions in other foreign-invested enterprises or in Vietnamese-owned companies are also welcome.
  5. What is the situation vis-a-vis Vietnam's state enterprises and workers? What restructuring and management regime changes have taken place in the state sector? How have state workers adjusted? What have been their attitudes to such changes? What conditions are they encountering? Are they doing better or worse than workers in the other sectors? Why have they been rarely involved in labour protests? The private sector boom is draining people away from the state sector. In the eyes of job-seekers, employees and others, what are the pros and cons of employment in the state sector versus the private sector in terms of conditions, status or other considerations?
  6. What type of regulatory regime for labor is in place in Vietnam? Has the regulatory system been effective? From what sources does pressure to change the regulatory framework come? What is the relationship between the state, the Vietnamese trade union and the workers? Can one speak of a monolithic state policy vis-a-vis labour, or is there a multiplicity of bureaucratic interests? Does the official trade union represent workers' interests at all? Are there any signs that the official union is behaving more like a trade union and what possibility is there of the emergence of independent trade unions? Is there a vision about where the labour movement should be moving? As foreign trade unions and international organizations such as the International Labour Organization (ILO) establish contacts and even offices in Vietnam, what influence have they had on Vietnam's industrial relations system?
  7. As Vietnam increasingly integrates with the global supply chain and as it increases its exports, labour rights violations have been drawing attention from the outside world. The corporate social responsibility(CSR) initiative has penetrated Vietnam for more than a decade. What has been its impact? What other perspectives influence the setting of labour standards in Vietnam, including expectations that may have emerged under socialism, the social and cultural expectations of workers, or the expectations of foreign employers? Does the government enforce a particular perspective or act effectively as a mediator?
  8. What kinds of debates regarding labour take place in the public sphere? Can one detect differences of opinion, including divergent opinions within the state apparatus? How effective have debates or campaigns run in the media been in bringing about changes in policy? What influential representations of labour issues can be found in the news media, television dramas, films and literature? The conference also welcomes the showing of documentaries and/or film critiques that bring labour in Vietnam to life on screen.

Interested writers are invited to submit paper proposals on the above themes. We do not expect each paper to address all the sets of questions noted above. We would like, however, each paper to take up issues from more than one of these sets. Papers can approach the issues in different ways; we expect variety in this regard. Interdisciplinary approaches are encouraged Contributions should endeavour to put the discussion in comparative perspective.

Proposal Submission
Contributors should send their proposals and a one page CV to Dr Anita Chan by 17 May 2008. Email: [mailto][/mailto]

Each proposal should be no longer than 600 words. The proposal should outline how the paper relates to the issues highlighted in the above set of questions and the kind of research the paper will be based on.

The conference organizers will then decide which proposals to accept. We will then extend invitations to the authors of the selected proposals to prepare and present their papers to the conference. The organizers also reserve the right to reject papers presented and also to solicit papers, if necessary, from individuals who did not submit proposals.

Some funding for travel and accommodation is available and details will be discussed later with each paper presenter.

Paper Specifications
The paper itself should be submitted 30 days before the date of the conference.

The paper should not exceed 10,000 words and it should include appropriate bibliography and citations. Each paper should include an abstract of 200 words.

Presentation and Publication
We envisage about ten paper presentations during a one and a half day workshop in Canberra on 6-7 November 2008. The conference will also have two presentations about recent political and economic developments in Vietnam.

At the Update each author will have approximately 40 minutes to summarise what her/his paper argues and the evidence used. The full text of the paper may be included, subject to any necessary revisions to meet publication requirements, in a refereed book that we hope will be published within a year after the conference.

Conference Organizers
For further information, please contact any of the following organizers:

Convenor: Anita Chan, Contemporary China Centre, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, The Australian National University.
Email: [mailto][/mailto]

Philip Taylor, Dept. of Anthropology, RSPAS, The Australian National University.
Email: [mailto][/mailto]

David Koh, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore.
Email: [mailto][/mailto]

David Marr, Division of Pacific and Asian History, RSPAS, The Australian National University.
Email: [mailto][/mailto]

Li Tana, Division of Pacific and Asian History, RSPAS, The Australian National University.
Email: [mailto][/mailto]

Ashley Carruthers, School of Archaeology & Anthropology, Faculty of Arts.
Email: [mailto][/mailto]

Ben Kerkvliet, Dept. of Political and Social Change, RSPAS, The Australian National University.
Email: [mailto][/mailto]

Thai Duy Bao, Faculty of Asian Studies, The Australian National University. Email: [mailto][/mailto]